A leader in the movement to unionize Amazon warehouse workers, Christian Smalls was threatened with arrest yesterday while organizing at a fulfillment center bus stop near Albany, New York, where workers recently filed for a union election.
The workers at this warehouse — ALB1, located in Schodack, New York — are attempting to organize with the Amazon Labor Union. Smalls is the president of the group, which helped form Amazon’s first recognized labor union at the Staten Island warehouse where he used to work. Smalls has emerged as a leader in the American labor movement, speaking before congress and meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House.
Yesterday, Smalls organized an action at the bus stop at ALB1. The bus stop is operated by the Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA), the local public transit provider, but Amazon claims that the bus stop is part of its private warehouse property.
In a video obtained by More Perfect Union, local police chief John Hourigan said he received a call from Amazon that the organizers were contesting whether or not the bus stop was private or public property.
“When Amazon built this facility, they built this shelter. It doesn’t say CDTA on it. It’s not a public-access shelter,” Hourigan said in the video, referring to the bus stop that the small group of organizers occupied. He gave the organizers ten minutes to leave, or else he would arrest them for trespassing.
“This bus stop is on private property since it’s inside Amazon’s parking lot, and we have their permission to enter to board customers,” a CDTA spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Once a rider reaches the destination, it is up to the property owner to handle situations with the public on their property.”
In the video of the interaction, Smalls raises questions about the contradictory nature of a privately-owned public bus stop.
“If there’s a homeless man that gets off here — it’s the last stop, they have to get off here — do they tell them to leave?” Smalls asked.
“I don’t know,” the police chief responded.
“They don’t. The only reason they’re doing that is we’re forming a union,” Smalls said.
Ultimately, Smalls and the other organizers left to avoid arrest. On Twitter, Smalls described the incident as “wasted taxpayers dollars.”
Amazon has taken similar actions in the past. In February, Smalls and two employees were arrested for trespassing after delivering trays of food to a Staten Island warehouse. At the time, the organizers’ pro bono lawyer Seth Goldstein called the action “outrageous,” describing the arrests as union-busting.
An Amazon spokesperson told TechCrunch that the company supports its employees’ federally-protected right to organize. Smalls, however, is not an Amazon employee.
Amazon has a history of engaging in anti-union activity. Earlier this year, U.S. prosecutors found that the company violated federal labor law for threatening, interrogating and surveilling workers interested in unionizing.